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Ranking the Toughest Games on USC Football's Schedule

USC Trojans RB Stephen Carr

USC Trojans RB Stephen Carr

USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton

Clay Helton's fourth USC team is in a bit of a quandary. With talented players on both sides of the ball returning, the Trojans are still in search of a quarterback to run the offense. Is this the year the Trojans finally put it all together? If they are to do so, they're going to have to get past a daunting schedule.

Tom Herman and Texas will welcome USC to Darrell K. Royal Stadium in September for what is sure to be an intense return game following last season's double-overtime thriller in Los Angeles. The Longhorns have had this game circled for some time, so the Trojans better be ready.

Here is how the entire USC schedule shapes up, ranked from easiest game to most difficult matchup.

12. Sept. 1 vs. UNLV

Putting UNLV at the bottom for this exercise somewhat overlooks the job head coach Tony Sanchez has done since making the jump from the high school ranks. The Rebels have increased both their overall and conference win total by one in each of Sanchez' three seasons at the helm. UNLV shouldn't offer much of a challenge for USC, but expect Sanchez to sell his guys on the idea that they can upset the Trojans.

College football rankings: UNLV

11. Nov. 3 at Oregon State

The Beavers have hit the reset button again while USC reloads. Expect the drastic differences between the two programs to be apparent on the scoreboard.

College football rankings: Oregon State

10. Oct. 13 vs. Colorado

Colorado is looking for its first win against USC since, well, ever. A few years ago, the Buffaloes looked like they were ready to finally get into the win column against the Trojans, but the Men of Troy re-established their dominance last season with a 38-24 victory in Boulder. The timing of this season's meeting does not seem to favor Colorado given that whoever ends up at quarterback for USC will have five games under his belt by the time the Buffaloes come to the Coliseum.

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9. Oct. 27 vs. Arizona State

The hiring of Herm Edwards as the Sun Devils' head coach hasn't exactly inspired confidence to many outside of the program. But while Edwards' talk game may not be up to par, he is a seasoned NFL coach. Seventeen years of NFL coaching experience (and two more as a scout) suggests that Edwards is fully capable of getting the job done regardless of what he says in a press conference.

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8. Sept. 29 at Arizona

The world watches as new head coach Kevin Sumlin adapts his style of coaching to the dizzying tempest that is quarterback Khalil Tate. If these two can make it work, Arizona can win the Pac-12 South, if not the whole conference.

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7. Nov. 10 vs. Cal

Second-year head coach Justin Wilcox proved last year that his team would play a stout defensive game mixed with an offense capable of testing opposing defenses on every level. If he's able to improve, the Bears could be a team to watch out of the Pac-12 North.

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6. Nov. 17 at UCLA

Perfectly placed in the middle, the Bruins represent a huge unknown. After having mixed success in the NFL, Chip Kelly is back in the Pac-12 as the Bruins' head coach. Exactly what type of offense Kelly will put on the field against the Trojans remains to be seen, but Kelly is a proven winner.

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5. Sept. 21 vs. Washington State

Mike Leach has built a solid program up in Pullman. Combine this with the fact that he has beaten the Trojans on multiple occasions, including last year. This Trojan team is ripe for the picking; Leach is more than happy to oblige.

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4. Oct. 20 at Utah

Of all of the teams on USC's schedule, the Utes are among the most experienced. With 18 full- or part-time starters from last year's squad returning, the Utes look exceptionally promising and a strong favorite to win the conference. Beating the Trojans at home would go a long way toward that goal. The Men of Troy will get Utah's best this day.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

3. Nov. 24 vs. Notre Dame

Last season, a Notre Dame team that ended up in the Citrus Bowl dominated a USC team that went on to win the Pac-12 and played in the Cotton Bowl. Anything can happen in a rivalry game, but the Trojans will need a better effort compared to last year if they want to beat the Irish.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Notre Dame

2. Sept. 8 at Stanford

This has really been the Pac-12's premier showcase of football. Two programs that espouse tradition and play a style of football that long-time fans of the game can appreciate. USC had a sweep of the Cardinal last year, beating them once in the regular season and then again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Can the Trojans keep the momentum going?

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Stanford

1. Sept. 15 at Texas

Who has forgotten last year's double-overtime thriller? The Longhorns need to settle on their quarterback, but whoever it ends up being already has an idea of what USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast likes to do and the benefit of Herb Hand's tutelage protecting him up front. Texas wants this one bad, especially since it's at home.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Texas

-- Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Webb also is a staff writer for @TheMarvelReport. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.